Filmmaker Ava DuVernay's Favorite Tunes

After making a documentary about women in the heyday of hip-hop, My Mic Sounds Nice, Ava DuVernay is scheduled to feature her new film, Middle of Nowhere, at the Sundance Film Festival. As part of Tell Me More's series, 'In Your Ear,' she shares music that influences her films, including tracks from West Side Story.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we are going to stay in the world of independent films for today's addition of our occasional feature In Your Ear. That's where we ask some of the guests who've appeared in this program about the music that inspires them.

We spoke with another independent filmmaker, Ava DuVernay, earlier this year about her role in founding the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. That group promotes black film festivals and works to get more black films into theaters. Ava DuVernay will have her own film, "Middle of Nowhere," featured in next month's 2012 Sundance Film Festival. And here's what she had to say about some of her favorite music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AVA DUVERNAY: Hi, my name is Ava DuVernay, the writer and director of the film "I Will Follow." And the first song I'm listening to is a track by an amazing vocalist named Ra-Re Valverde. She's a backup singer for Erykah Badu, who has put out an album that I really love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIL U COME HOME")

DUVERNAY: And my favorite song from the album is a song called "Til U Come Home." We actually used it in the film "I Will Follow," and it really captures the spirit of our narrative.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIL U COME HOME")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.

DUVERNAY: The next song I'm listening to is from a mainstay in my car. Track six on my CD changer, to be exact.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I like to be in America. OK by me in America. Everything free in America. For a small fee in America.

DUVERNAY: I always get some sideways glances from my passengers when it comes on. But I'm a black girl who loves the soundtrack to "West Side Story," the lush orchestrations of Sondheim and Bernstein, the lyrics so full of life and humor and humanity and complexity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Skyscrapers bloom in America. Cadillacs zoom in America. Industry boom in America. Twelve in a room in America.

DUVERNAY: One of my favorites, "America." When you listen to it, you can to see that scene in the film in your head. They were so free, so beautiful, so colorful. Love the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I'll get the terrace apartment. Better get rid of your accent. Life can be bright in America. If you can fight in America. Life is all right in America. If you're a white in America.

DUVERNAY: And a final song that I love to listen to is from a new album by an artist that I really have liked for a long time. His name is Cut Chemist and his new album is "Sound of the Police."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUVERNAY: He's scratching, he's mixing, and the pieces of music that he uses to put the song together are just really, they'll pump you up for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That's filmmaker Ava DuVernay telling us about the music that's playing in her ear. Ava's new film "Middle of Nowhere" will appear in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival next month.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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